It's no secret that the Red One has caused quite a stir, and for good reason. The price point, design philosophy, and Howard Hughes-ian nature of the endeavor are thrilling and a welcome change in the staid world of camera manufacturers. I'm a big fan.
And money has now been placed where previously did mouths only tread. We saw working cameras at NAB, and some truly amazing footage shot in real-world conditions. So the Red One is real, and you could probably buy one if you wanted to. Do you want to?
I have a reservation for a Red One camera. Or rather, The Orphanage does. There's no way I'd be putting my own $17,500 into a camera body, no matter how badass it is. But for The Orphanage, it almost makes sense. With the body, a Nikon f-mount front plate, and lenses we already have, we can use it for element shoots and spec projects. Would we do enough of that in a year or three to make it cost-effective to buy rather than rent? Maybe. Who knows, when our reservation comes up, we may not even buy the thing.
Sometimes I get reminded why I don't post more on public forums. One such occasion came when I dared to gently point out on DVXuser.com (a forum about accessible filmmaking, one of my favorite subjects) that a satisfactory filmmaking kit centered around the Red One would cost a great deal more that 20-or-so grand. I actually received personal messaged from people who were incensed that I would dare try to chip at their dream, accusing me of propagating false numbers.
There are those out there who are throwing rocks at Red because they feel threatened by it, or because they like the status quo of cameras made by and for the elite. So I have to be careful in my writing lest I be mistaken for one of those people. In fact I'm the biggest fan of accessibility there is. I dare say I wrote the book on it. I'm just concerned that some Red reservation holders are getting themselves into the same situation I did when I was about eight years old, and I saved my allowance for weeks to buy an AT-AT toy. I saved and saved and I even factored in sales tax, so that when I got to the store I had exactly enough change in my jar to buy the Imperial Walker.
But not the batteries.
Luckily my Mom was there to bail me out. But she won't be there for me when I realize that my razor-sharp Nikon 50mm prime (which mounts to the $500 Red f-mount plate) breathes like crazy when I try to rack focus with it (Red 18-50 f2.8 zoom: $6,500), or that I really quite need a follow-focus regardless of which lens I use (cheapest follow focus I've found: $645, rails to mount it to: $1,250), or that a tripod that can hold a fully kitted-out Red One costs a couple grand at the very least, or that I might want some way of seeing what my camera is shooting (Red EVF: $2,950) or some way of recording it (Red Drive 320GB: $900). Mom?
Could you strip down your expectations and start making pictures with a Red One for about $20,000? Absolutely. But should you? Will you make a better movie with this minimalist Red setup (one lens, no tripod, 720p LCD monitor) than you would with an HV20, an M2 adapter, that same Nikon lens, and $17,000 left over for things like extra lenses, DV tapes, and coffee for the crew? Which of these scenarios creates a better experience for the audience? Which puts you, the filmmaker, in a better place to succeed?
Although it may sound like those questions are purely rhetorical, they are not. As you will recall, I have a reservation and I must decide what to do with it. These are real, active questions for me, and, I imagine, for many other people.
So in a world full of entirely justified optimism and excitement about the Red One, I hope you all will indulge my exploration of the elephant in the room. No matter how bitchin' the Red One may be, it may not be the best camera for you. Or me.
I'm going to finish with a lengthy quote from Carlos Acosta, a DIT from LA who posted this eloquent reply to a conversation on the CML about the relative merits of buying any camera.
...Let me throw some great reasons to NOT own production hardware. They will be especially true if you are a post/consultant. I am amazed how many producers, editors, animators, etc have committed to buying a camera.
This list could go on and on....my only hope is that those who buy production cameras and related gear understand the TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP. It's not as simple as adding up the hardware. If you buy equipment for the purpose of making money, it's a business. If your current business is not directly related to renting cameras you will have to start a new business which will likely compromise your old business. Now, your new camera business has to have insurance, clients [the bigger ones like free lunches], an office, subrentals, repairs, new gadgets, LOTS of time on the phone explaining the new technologies to a clueless producer hoping for a cheap camera.
- Production gear gets beat up and blamed for every problem that comes afterwards.
- No matter how cheap you think it is, it's expensive.
- You will never have the right lenses
- You will never have the right tripod.
- You will never be cheap enough.
- It will break in the middle of a shoot and you become public enemy #1.
- You will find yourself changing your career so that you can keep your fancy camera busy even when it is the wrong camera for the job.
All of a sudden....$17,500 seems scary to me. When it's all said and done, it's more like $90,000 plus continuing operating expenses and I still have an experimental system that has been branded as the CHEAP alternative. It's still a camera, the business has not changed at all. For the fifteen years I've been in this business, I have seen countless products that promise the world and actually deliver. Did the world change? No, it just got more pixels, more color, more speed, or more sex appeal.
I purchased a DVW-700 in 1997. It was 1035i and the hottest and most exciting development for digital acquisition at the time. It was quickly changed to the HDW-700a which did 1080i. It was a BetaSP/DigiBeta world at the time and no one knew what to do with this camera that required huge changes to take full advantage of. I had the newest toy on the block and was the poorest guy around for it.
The thread about compression is a great example of being realistic in a business that is full of crazy expectations. Compression is a reality for a multitude of reasons, but it comes down to making money. Buying a camera and what camera to buy requires a glimpse of reality as well.
If, on the other hand, you want an awesome toy and have lots of excess cash.....
Thanks for permission to re-use that here Carlos. The conversation is still active there on CML, here, and everywhere else. Is the Red One the most exciting thing to happen in Cinema in years? Heck yeah. Does that mean you should buy one? Maybe, or maybe not.
More to come on this, of that you can be sure.
Red One camera body: $17,500. Red One as pictured above, $33,870 (my best guess based on prices at the Red Store)